Too often buffet dining is a case of quantity over quality, but despite most meals being served buffet-style, the food on MS Midnatsol is exceptional.
Full board passengers eat all meals in main restaurant Midnatsol on Deck 5. When the ship is sailing in Norway, everything in the restaurant is locally sourced Norwegian fare -- fresh fish, fresh meat, yoghurt, cheese, bread and more is picked up from ports en route, and this freshness can be tasted in every bite. Two out of three meals (breakfast and lunch) tend to be served buffet-style in Norway, with tags on food displays explaining the exact provenance of each dish. Dinner is typically a set three-course waiter-served meal and a printed menu details the description of each course.
When sailing in Antarctica, the rule of thumb is that most meals are buffet-style, with just a couple of set three-course waiter-served dinners. Due to its location (the nearest civilisation/shops is 48 hours away from Antarctica), the seventh continent makes it impossible to replicate the freshness of produce found on Midnatsol when in Norway. This is because most voyages last 13 days, with no chance of restocking once the ship sails away from the homeport of Ushuaia in southern Argentina.
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Nonetheless, the chef is extremely inventive, managing to keep menus as fresh as possible. It's only on the last few days of each cruise that frozen berries at breakfast replace the preceding fresh fruit platters -- a change so subtle that most passengers probably don't even notice it.
Vegetarians and vegans are well-served by the buffets, which always offer a good range of veggie options. And even when there's a three-course set meal, the kitchen team are very flexible and happy to accommodate children (and adults) who don't like what's on the menu -- just inform your waiter of any likes/dislikes or allergies.
Midnatsol: (Deck 5): Located at the back of the ship, Midnatsol has floor-to-ceiling windows which allow passengers to enjoy the scenery from wherever they are in the restaurant. Luckily the food matches up to the view. N.B.: Timings may change depending on where the ship is sailing, but below is a rough guide.
Breakfast (6–9 a.m.) is a European-style buffet with plenty of hot and cold options, including sausages, bacon, meatballs, pancakes and eggs (cooked every which way) as well as a large deli selection that includes gravlax, herrings (the Norwegians do love their fish) and cold cut meats. The cereals, yoghurts, fruits, fresh bread, pastries and fruit jams are top notch, and the displays always look clean, neat and appetising. Coffee/tea/juice/water are always included at breakfast and seating is open.
Lunch (12 – 2:30) includes a daily choice of meat, fish or vegetarian main dish. What's on offer might include soup, smoked and poached salmon, cold meats, relishes, salads and an outstanding cheese selection. Examples of hot dishes include roast meats, fish, potatoes and lots of root vegetables. Desserts are homemade and delicious -- enjoy brownies, cakes and fruit crisps (like a British fruit crumble) with plenty of vanilla sauce to pour on top. There's also an excellent cheese, cracker and chutney selection if you've space -- Port Salut, Norwegian blue cheese and cream cheese with chives are firm favourites.
Depending on Norwegian excursions/landing times in Antarctica, the hours for lunch service may vary. Seating is always open.
Overindulging at the breakfast and lunch buffets is understandable, so it's just as well there's portion control at dinner (6–9pm) in Norway with the three-course set meal. Menus are creative and always make the most of what is locally available, advocating a 'farm to form' dining ethos. A typical dinner menu might dish up potato and leek soup, braised Norwegian lamb, and chocolate parfait with rhubarb sorbet. If the portions aren't big enough, then the waitstaff will happily give you a second serving on request.
In Antarctica you'll have to pace yourself better because most dinners are also buffets (usually inspired by a theme such as Italian, Asian or barbecue) with sinful desserts and a superb cheese selection. However, a typical three-course dinner (there are a couple per voyage) might be Scandinavian-inspired and include potato soup with gravlax, reindeer steak with mushroom panna cotta and cloudberry cake with almonds. Delicious!
Passengers are allotted an evening dining time slot at the start of the cruise, relevant to the waiter-served meals more than to the buffets. In Norway the first sitting is at 6 p.m., with the rest on the half hour until 8 p.m. (the last sitting). In Antarctica the second sitting is at 8:30 p.m. If you don't like the time given to you, it's no problem to get it changed.
As mentioned earlier, alcohol onboard is expensive in Norway. A bottle of house wine costs around £40 (about $50); a glass is from £9 to £14 (about $10 to $20). Beers range from £11 to £16 (about $15 to $20). There are drinks packages available and a £278 (about $350) drinks package will buy you a bottle of recommended wine every night (on a six-night voyage). It's worth noting that the sommelier chooses this wine for you, and if you'd prefer a more expensive wine, you will have to pay the difference.
In Antarctica alcohol is noticeably cheaper. A bottle of house red or white wine costs £24 (about $30), a shot of whiskey costs £6.50 (about $10), a glass of wine £6 (about $10), and a draft beer from £3.50 (about $5). Soft drinks are also priced differently -- a can of soda when in Antarctica is £2 (about $3), but in Norway it will cost twice as much.
A La Carte Specialty Restaurant (Deck 5): This is a small restaurant tucked away midship and is Midnatsol's only speciality offering with different menus depending on where the ship is sailing. When in Antarctica this eatery is called The Pampass Grill and offers a la carte fine dining at an additional cost if you fancy a change from the main restaurant. Its signature dishes (and they are first class) are king crab (£72 per kilo/about $90) and Argentine steaks (£21.50/about $30), served with Argentinian wines. Also recommended is the starter bolinhos de bacalhau (deep-fried clip fish balls) and creme brulee.
When sailing the Norwegian coastal route, however, the cuisine features Norwegian 'Coastal Kitchen' specialities, with a varying daily menu based on local produce picked up en route. The supplement is £27 (about $35) per person for a slap-up three-course dinner.
A perk of being a suite passenger is that a waiter-served breakfast can be enjoyed here instead of in the main restaurant.
Bistro Food Court (Deck 5): This midship cafe is more a shop than an eatery, selling pay-for snacks (think sweets, crisps and chocolate) as well as drinks, both soft and alcoholic. It has a relaxed adjacent seating area (with a great view) and is where tea and coffee can be self-served on tap during Antarctic and other non-Norway expedition sailings.
Paradis Bar (Deck 8): Feeling peckish between meals? This is where 'afternoon treats' are served (soups, pastries and fruit) between 3–5pm daily during Antarctic and all other non-Norway expedition sailings.